Seafarers held for months in Kaohsiung hotel after three-way wrangle on wreck removal costs
Owner, port authority and fixed premium P&I provider in dispute over who should foot $30m casualty bill
Master appeals for clemency to Taiwanese president, citing illnesses among crew members and wish to attend his own mother’s funeral
SOME 19 Azerbaijani seafarers have been held at a Taiwanese hotel for the past three months, following a three-way wrangle over who should pay a $30m wreck removal and pollution clean-up bill.
The issue has pitted Kaohsiung’s port authority against Baku-based manager Zulu Shipping, which says it cannot afford the outlay, and fixed premium P&I provider Hydor, which insists that is seeking to resolve the matter.
Teymur Aliyev, master of Zulu’s 2002 built, 1,262 teu, Palau-flagged boxship Angel (IMO: 9256406) has today written to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to plead for the crew’s immediate release, citing multiple health problems for which they are not receiving medical treatment.
In addition, his own mother has recently died, and he needs urgently to return to Azerbaijan for her funeral, he added.
The ship sailed from Sri Lanka to China, loading a full cargo of empty containers in Dalian with the intention of sailing to western Europe, from where it was to be traded.
The ship was surveyed at the Chinese port on behalf of fixed premium P&I provider Hydor, which noted several defects and withdrew cover.
But the firm was later approached by a broker and offered the opportunity to insure a second Zulu Shipping unit and agreed to reinstate cover other than for the list of specified defects.
While en route, Angel suffered ingress of water in cargo holds 4 and 5, and the crew suspected damage to the outer hull plating.
The master attempted to call at Kaohsiung in Taiwan to seek assistance but was twice refused permission to enter port. The ship thereafter developed a list and lost a number of boxes overboard.
A Lloyd’s Open Form was signed with a local salvor, but the salvor was refused permission by the port authorities to board ship.
Angel finally heeled over during the night and sunk on July 21, by which point everybody on board had already been taken off the day before.
While the wreck is not blocking Kaohsiung’s main channel, it is in the main anchorage area adjacent to the channel.
The port authority is demanding around $30m for wreck removal, retrieval of hundreds of containers and pollution clean-up costs after a bunker spill and is seeking a letter of undertaking or bond to guarantee its costs will be met.
The owners maintain that as the cause of the sinking was not one of the areas specified in the exclusions after the survey in Dalian, Hydor is obliged to pay the claim.
Such disputes are often resolved through litigation in the English High Court, in this instance neither insurer nor owner is prepared to fund legal action.
The casualty has been investigated by both the local equivalent of the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch and the local prosecutor, who has ruled that charges should not be brought against the crew and that they should be allowed to go home.
It is unclear why they have not yet been allowed to do so. Kaohsiung’s port authorities deny claims from the owner that the seafarers are being held on its authority.
“Our company is not the authority and we even don’t have the jurisdiction to apply for restrictions on leaving the country and investigation,” a spokesperson maintained.
Hydor claims manager Jan Anderson said: “We have close dialogue with the Taiwanese authorities and are fully co-operating with them in resolving this matter.”
So far, the crew are being held in reasonable comfort, but Zulu Shipping is worried about the ongoing cost and may transfer them to less favourable accommodation.
There are other efforts to resolve the case, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation asked for support.
Diplomatic back channels have also been invoked, although the matter is complicated by the fact that Azerbaijan has no diplomatic representation in Taiwan.